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Grey Matters, March 27, 2017; Volume 5, Number 27

posted Mar 26, 2017, 8:52 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jul 18, 2017, 11:08 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

It’s an interesting but predictable phenomenon that the annual NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament leads to the sudden development of passionate but temporary loyalties and rabid school spirit by individuals who really have no prior connection to the colleges currently competing in the tournament.  This year, and for this week only, I am now the biggest fan of the University Oregon Ducks and their basketball program.  If Oregon wins, and Gonzaga loses, I have a very strong chance of claiming victory in the low-stakes basketball pool that I casually joined when invited by a friend.  Given how haphazardly I filled out my bracket (I barely follow college basketball), my current sense of enthusiasm and Oregon pride is a bit ridiculous.  Correction, it’s very ridiculous.  Nevertheless, Go Ducks.  

I’ve got some timely updates and reminders to put in front of you, and then I spend some time reviewing the upcoming arrival of MCAS testing, which begins next week.  

  • Last week I listed the wrong date for our now-scheduled last day of school.  With the most recent snow day, our last day of school is THURSDAY, JUNE 22.  Apologies for that.  

  • There is an 8th grade dance being planned by the Student Council, and scheduled for Friday, April 7 from 7pm to 9pm. Stay tuned for announcements throughout that week for purchasing tickets.  

  • Don’t forget that Thursday, April 6 is the Junior High’s last early release day, where students are dismissed at 10:40am and staff remain to participate in professional learning.  

  • I hope most families of current 8th grade students have begun to navigate the Parent Portal as you complete the registration process for 9th grade courses at the High School.  Please remember that the portal closes next Monday, April 3.  

  • Another plug for the work our School Committee is pursuing regarding our District’s long-term building needs, including the possibility of proposing the construction of a new school building and/or renovating existing school buildings.  Click here for a downloadable flyer that lists all of the forum dates that are being offered by the Committee.  Important questions such as how many schools should be used, the number of grade levels at each building, and whether an early childhood center should be included are part of this dialogue.  Please consider attending!

  • The tryout and sign-up schedule for our Spring Sports programs are all set.  Meetings and/or tryouts for Track and Softball start next week.  For those who are interested in baseball, softball, girls volleyball or track, you can review the tryout and sign-up schedule by clicking here.  You can always go to the RJ Grey Athletics Page to review that information and also download Green Forms and athletic fee waiver request forms.  Please remember that no student may participate in tryouts without a valid/updated Green Form.  This is an MIAA regulation and no exceptions can be made.  

A friendly and important reminder that we have students at RJ Grey who have organized a drive to support Cradles to Crayons  with donations of gently used or new clothing and shoes to support programs that assist families that are homeless.  Please consider donating sizes infant to adult medium for clothing, and shoe sizes 0-10. The drive will start tomorrow (Monday) March 27th and go until April 6th, and bins will be located near the library entrance.  Thanks in advance for your support.  

For current 7th grade families, you will be receiving in the mail later this week the scheduling/registration form regarding your child’s 8th grade year.  This form includes math level recommendations, confirmation of current world language choice, and a space to indicate preferences for Grey Block (when students take an elective or have a study hall).  Please sign and complete the form and return it to your child’s homeroom teacher by April 7.  For those who may consider an override request regarding math level placement, please make note of the process for doing so (which involves a separate form that can be picked up at the Junior High) and the hard no exceptions deadline of Thursday, April 13 for that request.  

MCAS! I am sharing with everyone some thoughts about MCAS, and a good portion of it is reused from the past few years, since my/our thoughts on it haven’t really changed, along with our suggestions for how families and students should view MCAS testing relative to other aspects of the educational process.  

If the weather continues to cooperate, we begin the 8th Grade English/Language Arts portion of the MCAS state assessments next Monday, April 3. Here again is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing for April and May, and for both grades.  If your child is absent for one of his/her testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.  As I mentioned in an earlier Grey Matters, this is the first year where portions of the MCAS will be computer-based (for only 8th grade this year) and we will continue to help students be prepared for that testing platform.

At RJ Grey, we are interested in continuing to express and balance two messages to students about MCAS.  First, we hope that students take their participation in MCAS seriously, where they try their best and respond to the questions thoughtfully and to the best of their ability.  At the same time, we want students to know that how they perform on these tests does not define them as individuals, nor as students.  It’s one type of measure (given at one point in the year), and like any single assessment, can not truly capture all that there is to know (and needs to be known) about a student’s growth as a student, and all of their other talents and strengths.  

MCAS results are provided to individual families to be reviewed; and as a school, we are responsible for addressing areas of concern that the state may identify based on our results.  So we certainly pay attention to, and we work hard to prepare students for the MCAS, along with our other assessments. However, we never want students to experience anxiety or distress over the MCAS, and to know that there is much (so much) more to one’s development as a thoughtful individual than is reflected in this particular set of assessments.  Each year, I include a link to a 2014 New York Times article entitled,  “How to Get a Job at Google” (click here) that highlights Google’s approach and philosophy to recruitment and hiring, noting a de-emphasis on test scores and GPAs as a predictor for the qualities that they seek, and instead “cares about a lot of soft skills— leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and relearn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.” In a February 2105 article in the Boston Globe Magazine, a Williams College psychologist presented her ideas about how our schools’ efforts might benefit from a re-orientation of our standardized assessments around skills and qualities that, interestingly, have much overlap with the Google article.  While the author didn’t specifically make reference to Google, it was hard not to see the similarities found in her “7 Things Every Kid Should Master” (and should therefore be the focus of assessments) as she emphasized reading, collaboration, conversation, flexible thinking and use of evidence, inquiry, and well-being.  Just some food for thought as we enter this season of state assessments.  

In an effort to support students during these testing days, we hope to work with families on establishing some routines that will deliver that dual message that I describe above. We begin MCAS testing about 15 minutes after homeroom so we can provide some time to make sure that all students have a chance to settle down and, quite frankly, have the chance to eat something.  If you have time at home, please think about making sure your child has a good breakfast before leaving -- taking a 2 hour test on an empty stomach can be tough for some (count me as one of them).  If you don’t have time, please feel free to send your child in with some food that they can eat during that brief period before testing begins.  To repeat my plea from previous years: in the interest of avoiding a mess, please don’t send your kids in with a Grand Slam Breakfast from Denny’s, but some water or juice, a muffin, fruit or yogurt.  We will also be providing each room with some snack food for students who didn’t have the opportunity to eat at home, or able to bring something on their own.

Finally, we had our latest installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week.  Ms. Mazonson, Social Studies teacher on 8 Gold, brought two students who read Taoist-inspired poems that they crafted as part of a class exercise.  Many thanks to Ms. Mazonson, Cole Harris, and Sonia Mulgund for sharing their poetry with us. Click here to read their submissions.  

Have a great week, everyone.